2011, People, Stories and Articles

Tom Cusack – Full Biography

By Tom Cusack
Desert Drover
On the stockroutes of North West Australia and Inland Deserts
Bull Creek Station, Strzelecki Creek and Yunta
Birdsville Track to Maree and Simpson Desert
Sturts Stony Desert
Georgina River – Simpson Desert
Tanami Desert – Western Australia and Northern Territory

With Splinter Dale in 1950

In 1950 in early April in Winton I was offered a droving job by Splinter Dale to pick up 1500 store bullocks at Breadalbane Station north of Bedourie. We followed the Diamantina River to Monkira Station, turned off on a track to Clung Station, then Bedourie townships, then onto Breadalbane Station. On the way down the Diamantina Road we had our bog holes to cross in places, being not long after the wet weather was finished.

Splinter Dale had a 3 ton Dodge flat top 15ft truck, loaded up with petrol 3 x 44 gall and three 44 galls of water, stores, 4 sets of packs and leather gear etc. And all other odds and ends that are needed in the bush. There were 6 of us in the camp, 1 cook, 1 horse tailer, Boss Drover, 3 ringers. We had a plant of 44 horses, us four riders had 6 working horses each, 10 night horses and 10 pack horses.

There had been good rain over the wet in Queensland, which extended into South Australia and the N.S.W. border and the Strzelecki track which leads to Lake Blanch and Lake Callabonna. The Strzelecki runs into the Coopers Creek and in a big flood of the Coopers Creek it will flow up the Strzelecki Creek and fill Lake Blanch and Lake Callabonna and from Lake Callabonna into Callabonna Creek into Tilcha Creek into N.S.W. as it had done in 1950 wet, which was then OK to do the droving trip. If the Strzelecki Creek didn’t run, it would be too risky to take a large herd of cattle into the sand hill country, as this track can only be used if it had a good wet on it, and abundance of feed in the sand hills.

The sand hill country grows Parakeelya and when stock eat enough of it can stay off water for days at a time, as the Parakeelya is full of moisture. A beast doesn’t have to come to water every day also Pigweed Flinders Grass and a type of bunch grass and a type of Desert Mitchell grass, and Flinders Variety of weeds and bushes, which are all very fattening feed. If the desert could get good rain every season, it’s one of the most natural fattening areas in the bush, and stock will put weight on very quickly. The stocking of desert in big numbers has to be worked out with the amount of rain one gets on his land. If one is overstocked in desert country and you miss getting a good follow up wet the country might take a few years of good wets before you see it come good again with abundance of feed. Also if too much feed it taken off the sad hill country, the prevailing winds will make the sand hills mover, as I’ve seen in years to come.

The cattle we are droving are for Frome Downs Station, South Australia, so we start the muster at Breadalbane Station south of the station on Eyre Creek which is flood country and very fattening. As the stock camp mustered and drafted off the store bullocks for droving, we would take them and tail them in the day and break them in to night watching. We had a two hour night watch each to do. They were good stock to watch, the odd few would get up and try to wander off, otherwise they were good. It takes a few days for a mob to settle in and be contented to be handled in a mob.

In four days we had our mob of 1,500 store bullocks together, with abundance of green feed and plenty of surface water about the country. The weather is still hot in the day with a touch of winter at night time, being a little bit cool.

The length of the trip from Breadalbane Station to Frome Downs Station is about 820 km and is on the southern tip of Lake Frome. We started the trip on the 20th

April for Bedourie, then to Glengyle Station, then to Cacoory then onto Durrie Station, the cattle are handling very good day and night, so the handling we gave them while the muster was on, done them very good. We are heading for the border of Queensland and South Australia and the first station we came to in South Australia is Cordillo Downs. Very good open downs country and sandhills to the west and north west of the run the station is a little over 100 km over the Queensland border. Between Cordillo Downs and Innamincka Station we cross a lot of creeks with water in them plus tanks and bores. The cattle have settled down as one mob now and handle very good.

To the south east of Innamincka Homestead on the Queensland border near Nappa Merrie is the Dig Tree of Burke and Wills, their depot of food buried on their return trip from the Gulf of Carpentaria. The Strzelecki Creek flows into the Cooper at Innamincka Station, and now we are heading into the sand hill country on the Strzelecki Creek, and plenty of water in pools to keep the cattle happy.

We cannot let the cattle spread too wide as the sandhills are from 10 to 20 meters high and plenty of them. In the early days there was a Mission just off the track and creek, and the tops of the buildings had only the roof standing out, also a stockyard and 30,000 gall water tank you can only see the top of the tank and the top rail of the yard. The Dingos are very thick here and follow the cattle at day time, and they howl all night in the sandhills, its nothing to see them in a pack of 10 in one mob.

The rabbits are in their tens of thousands here and have their burrows all in the sandhills, the dingoes live off them as one often sees the dingoes catch them and eat them. The dingoes are a lot fatter here than you see anywhere in Australia. Still having a good trip with the cattle.

Near Hamilton Creek is the Out Station of Frome Dows called Skeleton Out Station, as the Skeleton of a dinosaur was found after World War ll, that’s how the out station got its name. For miles around the out station, the country is open black soil plains, in the distance for miles out its sandhills. To get to Frome Downs from the out station Skeleton, there is a track on the east side of Frome Lake to follow, and the sand hills here are up to 20 to 25 meters high.

We came across a flowing bore on top of a sand hill beside a track and the water used to flow into a salt lake. There was a little dry fresh water lake east of it and with a shovel diverted the water into it two days before so there will be plenty of water in it for watering the stock and the water has cooled down by then. We are relying on bore water for the stock now, most bores are a good days walk for the stock, the trick is if it’s a long way to water the next day, go out 7 to 20 km the evening before, and that makes the next day to water a lot easy.

We have been able to get through with the truck in the sand, only a couple of little bogs, and if we hit any bad bogs in sand, we had a few clumpers pack horses to help to pull it out. We have been lucky, and haven’t had any sand storms yet, but in the distance maybe up to 50 to 80 km away we can see red dust of the sand storms on the horizon, we get the wind and a light dust at times. Half way down the east side of Frome lake the truck hit a patch of white sand 300 metres long and got bogged bad, so the clumper pack horses were used to pull it out with the motor running on an idle, with the engine help the horses did a good job.

When one sees white sand in the desert it pays to go around it as its got no bottom in it. When the sand storms are blowing the stock yards have sand half way up to the top rail, so before cattle are mustered, the stockman use a small dozer to clear the sand out of the yard. As this is done nearly every year, the sand taken out of the yard is like a sand ridge around the yard, to all cleared back to 30 meters to stop the wind from blowing it in the yard. Life can be hard work in the drifting sand hill country. The head stockman has strict orders when mustering, if a sand storm is blowing, to get all his men and head back to camp and stay there till the storm has blown out. Sand storms will last from a few hours to up to 4 to 5 days, and if you are lost in a sand storm, 12 hours is your survival time.

Haven’t hit any more bog holes in the sand, the truck is getting through real good now, the cattle are coming along A1 and holding their condition, still good feed along the east side of the Frome Lake.

Arrived at Frome Downs and we drove them on the south west side of Lake Frome where there are creeks that run into Lake Frome. There’s black and red soil plains, good grass Desert Mitchell, Flinders, and in the sandy parts, plenty of herbages, all good sweet country. This is where they will fatten up good. We delivered all we started off with, less the killers at distance of 260 km in Queensland and 670 km in South Australia and the distance of 930 km. It took 8 weeks and 2 days.

We had a few days blow resting the horses and the men. The stock camp was mustering a mob of 700 bullocks for us and in five days rest we were off to the Yunta rail head to truck these to Adelaide. From Frome Downs to the rail head is a distance of 160 km, and this country is out of the band sand hill country. It was some desert country with patches of black soil and red country and half way to the rail head it was in the early days deep reef gold, lots of old diggings about the fresh water flooded the mine shafts. Had a good trip to the rail head and it took 12 days for the trip. Yunta is a small rail head town just to serve the stations etc.

Harry Redfern known as Captain Starlight stole 1,000 bullocks and a bull on Bowen Downs Station in the Longreach area in about 1850 and built a stake yard in the Thomson River to draft the cattle off, and when the river runs it would wash the yard away and no one the wiser. He used the Strzelecki track to Yunta to get to Adelaide to sell the country, so one must take his hat off to the man, for doing such a good job in the country he has never been over before, and with 1,000 bullocks. We must give him credit for the job he did. Captain Starlight managed Brunette Downs years later and got drowned in flood waters on Corella Creek, and is buried on its banks.

Droving Alexandria Bullocks in 1951

Leave Winton at end of March 1951. With Splinter Dale and plant we went to Alexandria Downs Northern Territory to pick up 1,500 store bullocks and drove down the Georgina to Old Coorabulka Station. It’s wonderful to go down the inland rivers after a good wet and floods, with plenty of feed and water everywhere. We crossed Burke Creek which runs into the Georgina River on Herbert Downs Station, then the Hamilton River and onto Coorabulka Station (old). Coorabulka Station is big open black soil plains, with sand hills dotted around the western part of the run, plus big areas of flood country. The Alexandria cattle are very good cattle to drove. While riding night watch, they will camp to within a few feet of the fire, so one had to keep moving them back from the fire, for the night rider to ride between the fire and the stock. I always try to do the 10pm to 12 midnight watch, and the Alexandria stock have a habit before I go off watch to drop their dung and pick a clean area to camp, so one has to be ready for them when they try to move to a clean area.

We had a very good trip from Alexandria to Old Coorabulka, and a good delivery of the number we started with. We had a couple of days rest for the horses to get some good feed in them, then we went onto Monkira Station which the company own, and the land size for all the stations is about 15,000 square miles, and after a good wet which it just had, is some of the best natural fattening country one could ever have.

In those days there were no paddocks, or boundary fences. With 16 men in a camp for muster, one used to run the cattle, and by the time the day’s muster was done, one could have up to 2,000 cattle on hand. We would cut the fat bullocks out and hand them over to the drover to take to Winton or for Marree South Australia rail head. The country had a good wet for the season, and then the Diamantina and the Cooper run bankers and meet on Etadunna Station, the two rivers join together spread out for 180 miles, as all this country is flood out channel country. It is a picture to see this part of the channel country after the wet, with abundance of all types of greases and herbages. Because the Birdsville Track to Marree had a good wet we helped to muster 600 fat bullocks and drove them to Marree.

From Birdsville to Clifton Hill, the drover uses the Innes Track which follows the Diamantina River, as one passes Clifton Hill Station you come away from the river as it goes too far west, so one has to turn to Birdsville Marree Track and water from the creeks and bores.

We are in the sand hill country, and the winds are kicking up small sand storms which last from 6 to 30 hours, so one is covered in dust a lot now. Even though we are in the Simpson Desert or edge of it there are big black soil plains to cross on Etadunna Station and Mumpeowie Station, so the mixture of the feed is good, the horses are all picking up, a little shine on their coats, the cattle are holding up good, the odd day no water as the bores are far apart, sometimes 20 miles, so it’s only the odd dry day we have.

In the winter time the desert is a very cold place to be in, at times it drops to below zero temperatures, so when one is on night watch, one needs a big long coat, gloves, scarf and big wooly socks over the boots to keep warm.

Arrive a rail trucking yards at Maree, and load the rail trucks for Adelaide, had a good trip on the track, and good delivery in numbers. It’s the middle of September and the days are getting a little warm now, had two days in Maree at the pub, and a cold drink beer is really good after the months on the track, since leaving Winton.

We got back to Birdsville, another two days rest on the grog, them went onto Marion Downs to pick up 700 fat bullocks for Winton. From Marion Downs we went to Old Coorabulka Downs and then on Diamantina Lakes country. Through the western side of Diamantina country one goes through sand hill country and big fresh water lakes between the sand hills, it’s a picture to see it all the wild life feeding and drinking on the lakes, and cattle everywhere fat and shiny.

As one goes through Diamantina Lake country, in between the channels, there are big islands of feed so when the outside is eaten out the drover will take the cattle in on these islands of feed all day to feed the cattle. From Brighton to Maree there were tens of thousands of brumbies, the country was feeding more brumbies than cattle in the fifties, and in years to come the pet food companies rounded them up with motor bikes and killed them all. We got to Winton another good trip. The A cattle are the quietest cattle I’ve ever drove, it’s a pleasure to have good cattle to drove, have had my share of the rushing ones in between. We put our cattle on the train for Cannon Hill Meatworks in Brisbane, so we have had a good droving season, and the hot weather is on us now. We finished this trip by middle of November 7 ½ months on the track for the year.

Through Sturt’s Stony Desert

For a few years the southern droving tracks down the Diamantina and Birdsville Marree Track had very poor rain falls so no droving was done over the border to Marree for a few years. In 1958 new owners bought Clifton Hill Station, South Australia on the Birdsville Track and bought 2000 store bullocks from Bull Creek Station north of Chatsworth Station to drove across Sturt Stony Desert.

We drove to Boulia then to Coorabulka Station then on to Monkira Station, then onto Durrie Station on the Queensland/South Australian border. The brumbies are in their tens of thousands here, from Brighton Downs to the border; they are all colours and sizes. I am with Jack Stead and four others. Jack went to Beetoota Pub and store to stock up with tucker etc to get us across Sturt Stony Desert, as there are no shops where we are going. I looked after the plant while Jack was away for three days, and one day the horse trailer came back to me from tailing his horses to say a brumby buck was trying to cut the mares out of the plant, so I said to get the rifle from my swag which was a 32-20 under lever action and shoot it, and hours later he came back and said he shot it. When in brumby country the horses must be tailed out and watched, because the brumby bucks will cut the mares out, and you won’t see them again.

When Jack came back in the truck with the stores I told him about the brumby buck and he reckons he just heard at the Betoota put about the station Sire getting away to join the brumbies, so the buck that the horse tailer shot was the Sire that got away from the station, and his value was five thousand pounds.

We crossed the border into South Australia on to Cordillo Downs country and there’s a dam on the edge of the sand hill country, and left the truck here, and use the packs to get across Sturt Stony Desert. The brumbies are in their tens of thousands here, and after leaving the truck we drove onto a fresh water lake called Lake Goyder, in size it was 1 mile long and nearly as wide. We didn’t make it to the lake for water that night, as we had a lot of sand hills to cross.

We got there the next day and all around the edge of the lake were brumbies in their mobs having a drink of water, it was a pretty picture to see. We have a spring north of the lake about by 15 miles, but not enough water to water the cattle before we hit Sturt Stony Desert. At the moment we are only in Sandy Desert, sand hills up to 30 to 40 metres high. We tailed the cattle around all day giving them a late drink and going out as far as we can, as this is the last water for the stock for at least 3 to 4 days. We made about 7 to 8 miles that night, and next day got to the spring so the horses have a good drink that night and next morning.

We are leaving the horse trailer at the spring with most of the plant and only taking two horses each and three pack horses. Before midday we hit Sturt Stony Desert. The Stony Desert is mad eup of round red stones very smooth and shiny, there’s tens of thousands of square miles of this country and runs from the outer edge of the Channels of the Diamantina River in South Australia and all the way to Windorah Queensland.

To get a job on these stations that is known as the Apple Country (as the rocks look like red apples) you had to be a good farrier, as its murder for the horses if it loses its shoes. It took us 3 ¼ days to get over Sturts Stony Desert, and the hard going over the rocks and the dry spell slowed the cattle down.

The Stockcamp of Clifton Hill meet us at Coongie Water Hole, its on the outer channel of the Diamantina River and took delivery of 2,000 less the killers so we were lucky we didn’t lose any on Sturt Stony Desert, only a few were sore footed from the stones, otherwise A1. In the meantime a team of rabbit catchers with freezers were trapping rabbits and Jack Stead told me he will take the horses to Goyders Lagoon and as the rabbit truck crossing we got to the horse tailer’s camp packed up and headed for Goyders Lagoon. The horse tailer’s nickname was Crow (Johnny Wark real name) and when we were two miles from Goyders lagoon the horse tailer reckons we should turn at this big sand hill, he wanted to go right and I said we go left as I pointed out to him the cattle tracks on the left of the sand hill, so I said I’ll take the plant with me, and he went on his own to the right in another hour I hit the lake and Jack had the fire going. I told him about the horse tailer taking the wrong turn in the sandhills, and in the camp I got the rifle out and fired a few rounds into the sandhills.

It was a very cold night, and the Crow would have felt it without a swag. Still no sign next morning, fired a few more bullets into the sandhills to let the Crow know where we were. At about 10 am the Crow found us, and Jack told him to stay with the horses in the future, and don’t get lost again.

We got back to the truck on the edge of the sandhills by sunset, so next day we had a spell at the dam where we left the truck, had a good clean up, wash clothes etc. We got back to Durrie Station Queensland on the border and picked up 700 fat bullocks for Winton to put on the train for Brisbane. By the time we finished this trip it was the middle of October.

Opening up the Tanami Route

In April 1962 with Pat Fogarty and plant we picked up a mixed mob of 1500 and drove them from Breadalbane to Sprinvale, branded calves, then took delivery of 1,000 store bullocks to 4SQ Brand, to deliver to Frome Downs South Australia. From Springvale onto the Diamantina River Monkira Station, then to Durrie over the border to Cordillo Station South Australia. Been good rain in the last wet plenty of feed and surface water about so we shouldn’t have any trouble for feed and water. The cattle have settled in real good, and they are good walkers. Very good to watch at night.

We got to Innamincka Station and hit the Strzelecki track. Plenty of water in the creek, and the feed is good everywhere, this looks like it’s going to be a good trip like the one I did with Splinter Dale 12 years before.

One can never come down the Strzelecki unless its had good rains. Bill Wilson the owner of Frome flew over it in a plane to check it out before buying the cattle. We shot a few rabbits for the pot, they are good curried up with rice etc. We got to the Outstation of From called Skeleton out from Lake Callabonna, put them in a big paddock which has black soil plains in it, also sandhills to the south, so the mixture of feed should fatten them up. Paddy took on contract mustering and we did the branding at the Outstation.

We were hit with a sand storm which lasted about 4 days, we were lucky to be at the Outstation buildings when the sand storm hit, and the dust in the air blocking out the sun all the time. Our orders were if a bad sand storm hit, to leave the cattle and get back to the Outstation, as survival time without water is 12 to 24 hours.

After the mustering was done, we put together 1,000 cows and calves to drove to Frome Downs then onto the western side of Lake Frome to another station Bill Watson owned called Wertalcona Station near the Flinders Ranges. Another sand storm hit us after we left Frome Downs which lasted 2 days, and after I did my 2 hour night watch, I had to get a shovel to get my rolled up swag from under the sand, by the time a billy boiled its half full of sand, and as one eats the grit gets in the tucker and mouth.

After delivery we took the plant back to the Outstation and left the horses there for the wet, as Bill wants us to go to Halls Creek Country to a station he owns there and open a new Desert Track to Alice Springs a distance of 1,200 km, so I’ll be looking forward to going into new desert country in two states in 1963.

A week into the new year of 1963 Paddy Fogarty, his father Lloyd, his three sons Lloyd 20 years, Stan 16 years and Jack 14 years and myself Tome Cusack, packed the 4×4 LWB Toyota and the 2 ton trailer and drove down the Diamantina River. Big rain has fallen at the head of the Diamantina River which is in the Kynuna area, so we have to beat the Diamantina flood waters before they cut us off from getting into the South Australian country. The year before we worked doing the droving from Springvale Station to Frome Downs, and left the horses at the Frome Downs Outstation called Skeleton, it gets its name after science found the skeleton of a Dinosaur in Lake Callabonna after World War 2.

The horses should be fat and shiny for the desert work ahead of them this year. The Toyota Paddy owned is the second model that came out, it was a 6 cylinder petrol, and had finger tip gears. This was the only model that came out with finger tip control gears, we had a lot of trouble with the gears in the desert, and all models after that were floor gears, as the finger tip gears were unreliable.

The wet is really setting in now and following us, as we go down the Diamantina River. By the time we got to Old Cork Station the river is running a third banker, in the meantime as we travel, we are in the odd bog hole, and pulling a trailer in mud makes it all the worst in getting bogged more often. When we got to Davenport Downs we followed the track to Palparara Station then to Mooraberree Station. To get to Betoota Pub and Store we had to cross the Farrars Creek, which had 14 channels in it. Farrars Creek runs into the Diamantina River and all 14 channels were nearly running bankers, so the battle is on to see if we can get to Betoota Pub and Store. As we had to cross Farrars Creek, one channel at a time, we used to put a tarp in front of the radiator and tie it down, this had to be done for the 14 channel crossing, and at times the water was half way up the windshield.

Paddy was driving, his father inside with him, Lloyd and self sitting on tarp which was over the radiator and bonnet, and Stan and Jack on back of Toyota.

It sure was a battle to get over the Farrars Creek system, we made it in eight hours, odd time the plugs and wire got wet, we would dry them off and hit the next channel till we got across the fourteen of them. In the meantime its pouring rain, so we had a couple of nips of rum to warm us up, as we have been in water nearly all day. We all looked like a mob of drowned rats.

It took us two days to go from Mooraberree Station to Betoota Pub and Store. The rain is slacking off a bit now, so we were able to unload all our gear and let it dry out in the sun for two days, so the Betoota Pub wasn’t a bad place to dry the gear out, and wet the whistle at the pub. We packed up the Toyota and trailer again, and from Betoota we headed on a track for Haddons Corner on the border of Queensland and South Australia. From Haddons Corner we went onto Arrabury, crossing some sand hill country 25 to 30 metres high being red sand and wet the sandhills were good to cross the track was well beaten by other vehicles. From Arrabury we went on to the Burke and Wills Dig Tree on the Cooper. The Dig Tree was Coolibah tree about 3 feet in diameter and beside a waterhole of the Cooper. From the Dig Tree we crossed the Cooper for Innamincka Station to hit the Strzelecki Track, and with luck the Cooper was only running a foot deep at crossing. There had been good rain on the Strzelecki, good feed and water everywhere, and the rabbits in their millions.

The dingoes are fat and shiny on the Strzelecki track as they live off the millions of rabbits in the area, one can watch the dingoes catch the rabbits and eat them, in the dingo packs of up to 8 to 10, there is the off albino dingo all white in colour.

We leave the Strzelecki Creek as it runs into Lake Blanche to the north and we are travelling south. Lake Callabonna is to the east of us, and make our way for Yandama Creek which flows out of N.S.W. into Lake Callabonna which is a salt lake, then onto Skeleton Outstation. Paddy Fogarty had 60 working horses, and all colours, Paddy was known as Piball Paddy on account of the coloured horses he had in plant.

Had a couple of days rest when we got to Skeleton as it took us 16 days to get from Winton to the Skeleton Outstation of Frome Downs Station. The feed was good at the Outstation, and the horses fat and shiny, we mustered and drafted off 30 for the plant, as Paddy has the contract mustering at Skeleton to do. The sandhills on Frome are up to 30 to 35 metres high. We drafted off the bullocks into one paddock and the weaners in another, and put together 1,000 weaner steers to drove to Lake Frome Station then on to Wertalcona Station owned by Bill Wilson, on the western side of Frome Station near the Flinders Ranges.

To do this droving trip from Skeleton Outstation one goes on the east side of Lake Frome, then to Frome Downs Station then to the west side of Lake Frome. We got back to Skeleton Outstation and put a mob of 780 bullocks all fat for the rail head at Yunta a distance of 330 km.

Had a good trip to Yunta and on the way we say old gold diggings and an old pub of the early days. Water beat the gold mines to close them down. Yunta township is very small, just a railway town to serve the station people. We got back to Frome Downs and the owner Bill Wilson said it was too early to go to West Australia to open the track up as the men putting the windmills up haven’t equipped all the new bores up to this time, so he said why not take two weeks holiday in Adelaide, as we hadn’t ever seen Adelaide, it was a good idea. Bill had a fattening block of land with the railway line running through it at Balaklava area, he gave us the address and we had a look over the fattening block, and the cattle there were from Frome Lake Station, and looking very good. Balaklava township is about 25 km east of Port Wakefield at the northern tip of the Gulf of St. Vincent. Also on the Gulf of St. Vincent Bill had a beach house (holiday house) so we stayed 4 days there and toured around each day in the city and countryside, so it was good to see the other side of life working.

Whenever we went to a country town and go to a pub the people would ask us where we came from as we had our best stockman hats, boots, and clothes on, and they would ask us all about the life in the desert, and we couldn’t use our money to buy a round of drinks, they were all bought for us, the way they were pouring the drinks into us, they would have us drunk in no time, after a couple of hours we left the pub feeling the drink in us, the drinks just came a bit too fast.

We saw all different types of farms, from chocks to pigs to sheep, cattle and horses, and the wheat, corn milo etc.

On the way back to Frome Downs we went by way of Clare, Burra Peterborough to Broken Hill to see the silver City, then back to Frome Downs. From Broken Hill we took some good dirt tracks across the desert to Frome Downs when we got there, and he said that the Tanami Desert Track was still not ready, and in the meantime he got us another droving job to do. We have to go back to Betoota Pub and a mile away is the station homestead of Mt. Leonard.

So we went back to Skeleton Outstation with the plant of horses, then onto Cameron Corner on the South Australian, NSW Queensland border, followed the border on the South Australian side and hit the border droving track. We had to use this track, as it was better to get around in the vehicle on sandy loam country than the boggy country. We followed the border for three days and came to a gate and track going a station called Epsilon. We followed the border on the Queensland side going to the Burke and Wills Dig Tree crossed the Cooper, in luck again not too much water running in river about 2ft 6ins next day.

We helped to muster 1,600 store bullocks on edge of Farrars Creek, and the creek was back up by the Diamantina River running a banker. We are to take these 1,600 store bullocks on edge of Farrars Creek. We are heading back to Betoota then towards Durrie then to follow the road along side of the Diamantina River. We could see the River is running a banker, and as we passed Birdsville which is on the other side of the river and 27 feet of flood waters in between us.

From Birdsville we follow the Innes track which runs parallel to the river. The lignam that grows along side the channels are very big and the bush cattle have tunnels in the,, and the flood waters of the Diamantina are lapping the lignam and types of snakes and centipedes are all over the lignum and one has to ride his horse in the runnels in the lignum to get the cattle on the move, how one wasn’t bitten by a snake beat me, they were in their thousands all colour and sizes, the flood waters were driving them out of the ground, also thousands of centipedes and goannas. While on night watch at 10 pm to 12 am the flood waters came in close to us, so I woke Paddy and told him so we had to move all the camp further into the sand hill high country. With luck we were able to move the vehicle, as the rain had settled the sand and not getting bogged. We were still able to follow the inner track and we reached the Goyder Lagoon paddock on the outer channel of the Diamantina River.

We delivered the cattle about 20 miles from Clifton Hill Station all accounted for and the Head Stockman went back to the Station to let the owners know the cattle were in their paddock. At about 10.30pm I woke Paddy to say there were headlights coming to us, so I built the fire up and it was the new owners of Clifton Hill Station, they came out with two bottles of rum and two cartons of beer as they were very pleased with the delivery numbers and all went well with us on the droving trip. They stayed drinking with us for a few hours, so we hit the swag after they had gone, as we have a big day ahead of us, we got the message to go onto Marree to put the droving plant on the train for Alice Springs N.T.

In the meantime one of the stockmen at Skeleton Outstation started off with fresh plant of 30 horses to meet us on the track to Mungeranie Station. I was 10km south of Mungeranie when I see the plant coming along, so we swapped over the plants and I headed for Marree with the fresh plant. The stockman drove the other plant back to Skeleton Outstation. We got to Marree on time, grass and water for the horses put all on trucks plus the vehicle and trailer, and we had a wagon to ourselves, ice chest and water etc.

We got some beer and rum at Marree and settled in the train took off and it was one and a half days before we got to Oodnadatta 400 km. We checked out the horses all was well with them, got a few more cartons of beer at Oodnadatta, had one hour stop, we are off again. Its about 270 km to the N.T. border and we didn’t pass over it till just after sunrise. We had 290 km to Alice Springs and got in just before dark and it was raining and a cold rain at that. We were held up for a week in the Alice Spring township, population of about 3,000 people in the heart of the desert.

We were feeding the horses in the trucking yards, and within a week the track to the Tanami Desert and West Australia was dry enough to use a road transport to take the horses as far as Mt. Doreen Station distance of 330 km. We unloaded the horses there and walked them to Billiluna Station West Australia 160 km south of Halls Creek. From Mt. Doreen to the West Australian border of Balgo Mission is about 320 km and from the border to Billiluna Station is about 180 km. Snowy Brosnam was Manager then and he had the mustering going day and night. The stockmen were given a dope to keep them awake like the truckies use when driving day and night.

As they mustered the cattle we took delivery of them and when one big area was cleaned up we would move at night time and be near a bore by day time. An Aboriginal stockman would go ahead of the cattle and throw a lighted match in the small Spinifex as a guide to take the cattle through at night, we used to have wax matched in those days, so the match would stay alight for the Spinifex to catch alight. We drovers used to take it in turns to catch a few hours sleep while others had a sleep.

In the meantime the youngest of the Fogarty boys Jack got appendicitis and had to be taken to Balgo Hill Mission, and a plane of the Flying Doctor Service takes him to Derby Hospital for the operation, so he will miss out on the first trip. A week later Stan’s second youngest son of Paddy was galloping his horse around Gregory Lake and broke his arm as his horse went down so we are two short before we start the trip.

The Manager loaned us two Aboriginals to help us to hold the cattle at night. We are to take 1860 store bullocks on the trip. From Lake Gregory to Mt. Doreen Station 8 new bores were put down 60 km apart and the first two from Lake Gregory Puccy Cat and McGuire Bore, the columns were draped in the bores as they were lowering them in the bore, so at the start of the trip we kicked off with an 80 mile dry stretch. While watching the cattle at night time on Billiluna Station the cattle never did a rush or stampede while on their own country but once we got over the border, they rushed all night and every night. Because Paddy and I were the only ones in the camp that has been with rushing cattle, we were the only ones to night watch them. As we worked all day and night we would get the two hours sleep at the midday rest.

On the 80 mile dry stretch we used to do 20 miles a day and the station truck used to put out 6×44 galls of water each 20 miles for the horses and the camp, so the horses last their drink, and didn’t have to go without water. It was winter time and winter in the desert can be very cold, at times there would be ice on the water in the drums. We had to tow behind our trailer a pump jack, so the horse tailer would set it up and pump the water in the 30,000 gall tank. Even though all the bores had windmills on them, they couldn’t pump enough water fast enough to water 1860 bullocks, so we had to pump our own water.

Our first watering point after doing the 80 mile dry stretch was Bloodwood bore on the West Australian side of the border on Balgo Hill Mission country, the water was very good to drink, but the cattle were used to drinking brackish water of Lake Gregory and its bores, they didn’t drink the 30,000 gall tank dry, after 4 days no drink. Before the cattle got to Bloodwood Bore they started to rush, they are off their own country now, and rushing all hours of the night. At times I put it down to wild Aboriginals in the bush walking about.

It always pays to check all the cattle for broken horns, if a beast has a broken horn, the blowflies will lay their eggs and the worms will send them mad as they go close to the brain, this is one thing that will make the cattle rush a lot, as I go along the wing of the cattle in the day time I check their heads out looking for broken horns.

Once we found a broken horn, so we shot it and butchered it up and ate it as a killer, but the rushing still kept up once they rush they jump at anything. Paddy had some good night horses and the night horse holds your life in his hand. It’s very important to get to the lead as quickly as possible and woo them, yell to them to turn the lead, once you have turned the lead keep yelling till you have the lead turned into the tail, it’s important for the cattle to know you are there, so you must talk to them loud and clear.

Once we have them settled down after an hour or so we used to try and take them back to the camp, we had no hope if they used to come straight at us so we were riding hard to pull them up again. At one time we ended up two miles away from the camp, it took three rushes to get this distance, the cattle didn’t like being taken back to their night camp.

One night Bill Wilson camped with us and the cattle only had two rushes and settled down good, about 3 am Paddy called two others to take over for the last few hours, and I had a white swag cover and slept so the heat of the fire would blow over the swag, and only an hour in the swag and they charged the camp fire, and having a white swag cover the cattle jumped over it and never hurt me, so I was lucky. Bill Wilson said to me when I was having breakfast, the cattle went over your swag Tom, and I said whose leg are you pulling Bill, and he said go over to your swag and see the track on both sides, and sure enough one could see the tracks propped on one side and where they landed on the other side, so the cattle had 3 rushed for the night.

We camped on lake Alec a dry fresh water lake, and it was the biggest mistake we made, the cattle were restless, its a good job they didn’t rush that night, we all 5 of us had to ride around them and the dust was like a cloud over us, or better still like a fog, one has a hell of a job breathing and seeing through the dust. When the cattle did a rush that night it was my job to track ride the camp and make sure nothing got away. I used to cut my crib (tucker) fill a neck waterbag and put on my horse and take a 30 ft rope with me, if no cattle got away I would catch the cattle up in a few hours.

On one occasion I tracked up where five head got away and went west of the way we were going. It wasn’t till late that evening I caught up with them, so I hobbled my horse and gave him a drink from my hat out of the neck water bag and put the 30ft rope connected to a tree so the horse can eat in a good area.

Next morning the cattle are only a mile from where I had seen them the late evening before. The cattle will be 20 miles down the track from the first day I left, so what I do I look in the distance for a dust cloud and head for the point ahead of that so my track has to be across country. If you poke behind cattle like this and let them walk, it’s surprising the distance you can travel. It took me three days to catch up with the droving herd, and all were pleased to see me again, knowing I was alive and okay.

Piball Paddy was pleased to see me, as it’s a big worry to have a man back in the middle of nowhere, hoping all goes well with him.

On another two occasions 2 got away in the rush, but I was able to be back in one day and only one in another rush got away and back in one day.

There’s a fair bit of Parakeelya bush that stock can live off, as it is full of moisture and a beast can stay off water a long time if it can find this Parakeelya bush. When cattle have lived on Parakeelya bush a long time and is brought in to water its nostrils are very white and it will bloat itself with water and can hardly move for the amount of water it’s taken on. A droving beast will drink up to 30 gals of water a day where a bush beast will drink 15 gals of water a day.

All our bores on the Tanami Track were 60 km apart, so the trick in droving long stages in droving is when you hit water give them a good drink, and about 2 pm bring them back on water again and try and do at least 7 to 8 miles by sunset, so as you only have one dry day in 40 miles.

By the second day you are on water by midday which is good, so you water and let them feed and bring them back on water around 2 pm and knock up the 7 to 8 miles to the night camp, to do the dry stage next day in the meantime they are still rushing each night from 1 to 4 times a night, and Paddy and I are out all night watching them.

The feed in the desert is really good consistent short soft sweet spinifex desert mitchell grass, flinders grass, pigweed, herbs and different types of bushes, mulga trees etc. All the bores are equipped with 30,000 gall tank trough, and windmill. The windmills are all right and pump enough water to supply the station cattle, but not enough to water 1860 droving cattle, so we had to tow our own pump jack, and pump our own water. The horse tailer would set it all up and have it ready to pump by the time we got to the core, and some of the bores have good sweet waters. The cattle didn’t drink as much on good water compared to the brackish water, lake Gregory on the Billiluna block goes brackish when the water dries up and they liked their water with minerals and salt in it.

After travelling about 440 km we got to Mt. Doreen trucking yard on south side of the station, put them on the trucks, and they were taken to the railway trucking yards, put on the train, and Bill Wilson put some on his fattening block, and sold over half to his neighbours in the Balaclava area. The train line runs all the way through Bills blocks, so he was lucky to have the line running through his land. We went back to the Lake Gregory area on Billiluna Station, and on the way we stopped to say good day to Father McGuire we shook hands and the next words he said, was could you do with a whiskey, so Father McGuire entertained us for a couple of hours.

He asked us to stay for supper that night, so we watered the horses and hobbled them out. The Nuns at the Mission waited on us at supper time, and it was one of the best feeds I’ve ever had in the bush, the Nuns were very good cooks, Father gave us a few more whiskies with our meals and we left the table as full as ever on the good tucker we just had. There were about 200 natives at the mission and about eight Nuns and Father McGuire. As they had a poor water supply, years later they moved about 11 miles to north east and got a good supply of water, and rebuilt the mission all new, at where it is today.

We left next morning for the Lake Gregory area, and with the stock camp, started to muster the western side of the lake. We worked day and night to put the mob together, and when we cleaned one area up we would move at night, with the Aboriginals in the lead dropping a match in the Spinifex to guide us to the next bore. It took us four days to get the mob of 1860 bullocks together. While watching them on their own country they didn’t rush, but they started the rush the second night as we were just off their own country, so we have some lazy days ahead of us, as the cattle have been sold to the Web Brothers, owners of Mt. Riddock north east of Alive Springs, and a droving trip of 1200 km. We still had a 80 mile dry stretch to start off with, that 4 days dry for the cattle. The station truck put out 6×44 drums of water for the horses and the camp, for the three dry stages. Everyone at the Mission came out to see us go by with the second mob, there was more dogs of the blacks than there were human beings. The worst of the winter is over now, but still cool at night time. The stock route parallels with the Karney Range, and there’s a gorge half way along it, if you go about one and a half km into the gorge, there’s a 7 meter wider water hold, and its an under the earth river, if you put your hand in the waterhole you can feel the water moving, or pulling the hand.

Bill Wilson and I went up to it in a vehicle, as Bill saw the waterhole from an aeroplane when he was checking the route out to get the cattle across the desert.

In 1962 Bill Wilson, Joe Mahood, Bill Wardsley and Milton Pollock (I think I have the name right) drover 400 bullocks across the desert track for a test run. Big rain fell in the full length of the desert up to Mt. Doreen Station, and there was enough surface water to water a small mob of cattle. There’s two fresh water lakes on Mongrel Downs and they filled up, in 12 months they are dry if no follow up big rain each wet weather time. There were bores being put down but weren’t ready till April 1963, so Bill Wilson found enough surface water to water the 400 head , to get to the first bore on Mt. Dorren, all the bores from Mt. Doreen to Mt. Riddick were about 40 miles apart, so we always had a dry day for the cattle between each bore. The station now called Mongrel Downs and the later day name Tanami Downs was virgin land when Bill Wilson came across the stock route in 1962, so the four men that blazed the track took the land up as a station, and Bill Wilson stocked it with cattle from Billiluna Station. Over the years they all sold their share of the station to Bill Wilson, and years later Bill sold the station to the Yiningarra Aboriginal tribe. There’s big red and black soil plains on the block, with a few fresh water lakes and clay pans. Joe Mahood was the Manager and made a good station out of it, sold his share to Bill Wilson, and bought his own station (Cattle Creek Station) near Nebo in Queensland. He was up in the helicopter mustering wild cattle, and the heli crashed and Joe was killed.

Paddy and I are still up with them all night on the watch, they their rush now and again. Any odd times when they rush, I can woe them back from a gallop to a stop. If one talks to the cattle in the day time, they get to know your voice, and its the odd time, when you can woe them to a stop. So far we haven’t been losing any stock in the rushed as each morning I track ride the camp. We are at the Chilla Well now, and as we gave them another drink before we head for the night camp 8 miles up the track, Paddy and I counted the cattle, and we haven’t lost any. The stockmen let them stray too far off the track while we were counting them, and Paddy and I went around them, and in the distance from us about 600 meters away we see this white tarp in the timber, so we went over to have a look, it was a Volkswagen car the one called the Beetle, with a white tarp tied to it and a dead man on the back seat, and the rubber pipe coming from the exhaust and through the window, and tarp to cover the gap the hose made at the top of the window.

Frank Renahan was starting a station a mile from Chilla Well and had a good size hut up, we went up to see him, and he contacted the Police on the Radio to let them know about the body we found in the car out from the Chilla Well. The Police came out two days later and I jumped in their 4×4 with them to show them where the car and body was. On the front seat of the car was a plastic bucket with a full bottle of whiskey and a large bottle of in it.

It worked out later on that the bloke dead in the car, an English Journalist and was dead for three years, why he went out in the desert to kill himself beats me.

There are storms about as we go into new country in the droving trip south, and we have seen Phantom rains fall here on this track in October and see the same thing in the Desert in South Australia on Frome Downs. We can see storms 50 to 60 miles ahead and by the time we get up there, there is no sign of any rain falling, if the rain did fall it would have little given shoots of grass to share it fell. The ground is that hot and when rain falls the heat evaporates the rain drops before the rain can reach the ground, this is known as a Phantom rain. The cattle are not rushing as bad as they used to be, they are slowly settling down, although Paddy and I are still out with them every night.

When we get to Hamilton Downs we pick up a track going north east to get us to Plenty Highway which will take us to Mt. Riddick. Just before we got to Amburla Station, we hit green pickings and some of them were poison and 14 cattle went down, we got out knives out and cut their hides so as to let the gas out of them all came good bar 4 of them by morning. Just as well they were small steers, we got them onto the back of the Toyota and Paddy took them onto the next nights camp area. By the time we got the cattle onto the night camp, they were standing up but shaky they were able to walk the next day, so we were lucky none died on us.

We got to Hamilton Downs and found the track to the north east to hit the Plenty Highway. The watering bores a bit closer down here as the stations are letting us use some of their bores to water the stock. The days are hot now have been for a while now, and arrived at Mt. Riddick, the Web brothers came out and we counted them, and we handed over 1860 less the killers we used. Mt. Riddick is very rich in grass and good fattening block red and blacksoil plains, and some sandy loam country. We were able to leave the horses there till the following year, and we delivered the mob on 27th

October 1963. We went into Alice Springs and met Bill Wilson at the Stuart Arms Hotel, and we were only 1 hour in the Hotel and the news was on the wireless, and it said on the news that John F. Kennedy the U.S.A. President was shot in Dallas in an Election Rally. Years later Bill Wilson sold Billiluna Station to the Aboriginals.

Bruce, I hope you like what I have written, it has taken me 4 Sundays to write this, as I only take one day a week off. If there is anything you want to add to these stories you can do it Bruce. What I said about the Phantom rains is really true. I was prospecting out from Tennant Creek years ago and in December a ground temperature was 170F and 130 in the shade, and that is hot, so don’t forget to let me know what you think of the stories. At the Innamincka crossing of the Strzelecki Creek crossing there’s an old opal town, the huts were made of wood uprights and mud walls, when I first saw it in 1950 there were about five buildings still standing, but falling apart as the mud walls get wet and decay in time.

Enclosing a South Australian map, and marked the tracks I was on in the desert of this part of the country. You could take a copy and put it in the book as it would be interesting for the reader to follow. I hope I have put enough body in the story to make it interesting, as I said if you want to make it more interesting you could add a bit more to it, in different ways. Send map back when finished with it. We only get 1 mail a week, this is the 27th September so it won’t go till Friday 2nd October. Write soon.